Q&A: Coronavirus and Working Life

PLEASE NOTE, we will update these instructions daily as needed as the situation develops

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS CONCERNING THE SITUATIONS CREATED BY THE CORONAVIRUS IN WORKING LIFE 

1.What should I do if I catch the coronavirus or have symptoms of a cold?

Employees should always go on sick leave if they are ill. Check your employer’s instructions to see how many days you can be off work sick based on your own report. Many workplaces have considerably extended this right for the duration of the coronavirus epidemic. If you are ill, you will receive sick pay in accordance with the collective agreement. If no collective agreement applies to you, you can receive compensation in accordance with the Employment Contracts Act and then KELA’s sickness allowance after that.

If you are a MELA-insured grant recipient, you can receive sickness allowance. Find out more on the MELA website.

If you suspect you may have the coronavirus, please follow THL’s instructions and tell your employer.

2. I have been officially ordered into quarantine. Can I get compensation?

Under the Communicable Diseases Act, a person who is ordered to stay away from his or her gainful employment, or is ordered into isolation or quarantine to prevent the spread of a communicable disease, is entitled to receive a communicable disease allowance as compensation for the loss of income, as laid down in the Health Insurance Act. The same applies to the guardian of a child under the age of 16, if the child is ordered for the reason stated above to remain at home, and the guardian is for this reason prevented from working. You can find out more about the communicable disease allowance on the Kela website.

3. I am a grant recipient. I cannot carry out research due to the coronavirus measures. What should I do?

The situation of grant recipients is extremely changeable and difficult. Some grant recipients are almost unaffected by the current situation – if they remain healthy and their research is not affected by the restrictive measures. In this case, you can continue to work as normal. Grant recipients should also seek to use remote connections and think of alternative ways to do research.

Unfortunately, the current coronavirus measures have made it very difficult for some grant recipients to carry out their research plans. If your source material is located in a foreign country or involves observing the behaviour of large groups of people, doing research may become significantly more difficult. We do not yet know how long the epidemic and the restrictive measures will last. However, it is a good idea to start preparing now for a situation where the measures imposed due to the epidemic become prolonged and remain in place for a few months, for example.

If it becomes significantly more difficult for you to do research, you should consider whether it would be possible to modify the research plan so that you would be able to carry it out despite the coronavirus restrictions. If you would have to completely rewrite your research plan, it would be a good idea to contact your grant provider to discuss your options.  It is often possible to move the grant term, for example, but in these cases the parties must consider how the grant recipient’s livelihood would be secured. Unfortunately, grant recipients are often unable to receive unemployment benefit because they are considered to be self-employed, and moving the grant term can cause unexpected interpretations of the regulations.

Grant-funded research is not carried out as part of an employment relationship and is not supervised or directed, even though a report about the work is submitted to the grant provider. However, good practice involves seeking to carry out the research project in accordance with the research plan or make justified changes to it due to the change of circumstances.

4. Is my employer required to pay me if I have just returned from abroad and am required to stay at home for 14 days after my trip to prevent the spread of the pandemic?

If you have just returned from a trip abroad and your employer orders you to stay at home, your employer must pay you.

However, if you left for the trip after the authorities started restricting travel, this may not apply. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs issued a general recommendation to avoid travel on Friday, 13 March 2020. If you have left for a trip abroad after Friday despite this, it is unclear whether your employer is required to pay you. Right now, it is widely known that the authorities recommend self-quarantine of 14 days after returning from travel abroad. If the matter is widely known, the employer may consider the trip to be a situation caused by the employee, in which case the employer is not required to pay the employee.

We recommend following the instructions issued by the authorities and avoid travel.

5. Can an employer order an employee to self-quarantine?

If an employer orders all or some of their employees to stay at home, the employer is obligated to pay the employees as normal for the duration of the order.

Employees will usually be able to work from home in such situations. University employees who are in a total working time system are already allowed to work from home without a separate agreement. For others, we recommend agreeing with your employer on remote work opportunities and practices as soon as possible.

6. My employer has issued instructions on how to protect against the coronavirus. Am I required to follow the instructions issued by my employer?

You should follow your employer’s instructions, especially for organising and arranging work tasks. If your employer has instructed you to deliver your lectures remotely, you should comply with this instruction. The employer is responsible for the safety of the workplace and occupational safety and health.

The employer’s right to direct employees does not extend to free time, which means that employers are not able to issue instructions related to employees’ free time. However, you should follow instructions issued by the authorities also in your free time, regardless of whether your employer requires you to follow them.

7. What should I do if I am in a risk group and know that others at the workplace have come to work while ill?

Employees presumably do not have the right to refuse to work due to being afraid of catching the coronavirus. However, employers have duties related to occupational safety and health also during the coronavirus epidemic. The employer is obligated to take the necessary actions to ensure employees’ safety and health at work. This means that the employer must take into account factors related to the work, the working conditions and the work environment as well as factors related to employees’ personal requirements. Please let your employer know in writing if you or a family member are in a risk group.

This will require your employer to follow the instructions issued by the authorities and do their best to ensure that the work environment is such that the coronavirus will be unable to spread there. The measures can include working from home as well as ensuring good hygiene and cleaning. Open-plan offices and multipurpose spaces are particularly challenging environments, and employers should think about how they can ensure that the physical distance between employees is sufficient if, for some reason, working from home is not possible.

Employers are recommended to agree on remote work with employees who are in a risk group. If working from home is not possible for employees in certain roles, we recommend temporarily assigning other duties to the employees. You should remember that even though there are duties that cannot be carried out remotely, things like meetings can most likely be done remotely.

8. What should I do if my employer announces that the workplace will be closed? Will I get paid in this case?

The current situation is that the Government has recommended that all university buildings be closed. If the Government orders the buildings closed under the Emergency Powers Act, the restrictions will be even tighter. In this case, employees cannot physically go to their workplace.

If an employee is prevented from working due to their workplace being affected by a fire, an exceptional natural event or other similar cause unrelated to themselves or their employer, the employee is entitled to be paid for the duration of the obstruction, but only for 14 days.

Employees who are able to work from home are entitled to be paid as normal – even though they are not able to go to their workplace – for the entire duration of their remote work.

Employees who are unable to go to the workplace because their employer has closed the workplace and are, as a result, prevented from working are entitled to be paid for 14 days.